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Naples Miscellany 28 (start mid-Jan 2010)
Links to all Naples Miscellany pages

  •      (Jan 11) I am happy to report that the tree I voted for is currently in the lead! The poor historic palm tree in the center of Piazza Vanvitelli in the Vomero section of town has been done in by that nasty old Rhynchophorus Ferrugineus (the Red Palm Weevil) and will have to be replaced. The city is holding an on-line election. I voted for the camphor laurel tree (out of seven choices) because, though I’m not sure what camphor is, Stan Laurel was my favorite comic. Out of 2288 votes now in, my tree has 645 of them. An artist’s rendition of what the finished product will look like (if we win) is seen in the photo on the right. You, too, can vote! Go to the website for the city of Naples.

  •    (Jan 11) The most clogged street in the city—and that is saying a lot!— is (will you open the envelope please) via Marina. Big surprise. It's the east-west artery for all traffic along the port and has been undergoing major rebuilding for three years. Post-holiday work has now restarted, and the entire thoroughfare is a construction site. Tram lines have been discontinued because they have to tear up some track, and two lanes of cars are channeled into one for about a mile. They say it will be finished by the summer, which means if you get on that road this morning, you may be off it just in time to go swimming in July.

  •     (Jan 11) I read somewhere that ice-skating was invented in Finnland 4,000 years ago by Büstää Myääsagin. Maybe, but it didn’t get down here until much more recently. Once again, Ice Park® (they insist on that symbol, although I can’t figure out who the parent company is) has opened a skating rink adjacent to the Maschio Angioino—that is, the Angevin Fortress at the main port. Naples is one of about 20 locations throughout Italy with such rinks in the winter months. The Naples rink opened in early December and will close in early-mid February. You can watch ice-shows by pros and even pay 6 euros an hour to skate (while the pros stand on the sidelines and giggle).

  •    (Jan 14) On a related note, finances and bureaucracy have combined to produce only sporadic access (or even NO access) to many of the sites in Baia, including the Aragonese Castle, the Piscina Mirabilis, and an ancient Roman necropolis.

  •     (Jan 19) True to form, the bonfire maniacs came out and caused problems the other night. At a number of places throughout Naples, they set their fires and greeted emergency responders such as firefighters and police with a hail of stones and bottles.

  •      (Jan 19) The new Oscar Niemeyer  auditorium (photo, right) in Ravello is to be inaugurated on the last weekend in January with a series of concerts featuring, among others, the San Carlo orchestra, the young soloists of the Academy of La Scala, violinist Salvatore Accardo with the Italian Chamber Orchestra, and the "Bolshoi School" youth ballet from Brasil. (See item for Feb 14, below.)

  •     (Jan 19) The church of San Pietro Martire on Corso Umberto—for many years the chapel for the nearby Federico II University and one of the truly historic churches in the downtown area—has closed, and it is not clear when it will reopen. The problem is typical for many old churches in the area: not enough money and personnel to protect against vandalism and theft.

  •    (Jan 20) There are 34 tow-truck drivers in Naples. It's among the least desirable of all city jobs. It's difficult to do, and the drivers are subjected to ridiculous amounts of verbal abuse by those who park wherever they want—which means everyone and everywhere. A pay dispute has the drivers now threatening to strike. There may soon be no cars getting towed away! In complete solidarity with the downtrodden working classes, I say hear! hear!, We Shall Overcome! and where were these folks when I didn't need them a few weeks ago when I got my car towed at the airport? I mean, a runway is big enough for us all, right?
  •     (Jan 26) Buy this suit—or maybe you could have an “accident". Carnevale is coming up. Traditional garb for Mardi Gras festivities generally comes from the Commedia dell’arte, the medieval Italian set of “masks” (costumes) each representing a stereotypical regional character. Pulcinella, the mask from Naples, is well-known. This year, however, a shop owner in Secondigliano (near the airport) has a “Mafioso” mask on display: a dark-blue suit with pin-stripes. Now, says the sign, you can dress just like your favorite wise-guy, Tonio Fortebbracci, in the wildly popular TV drama about the Mafia, L’onore e il rispetto [Honor and Respect]. The character’s name in the show is really Fortebracci (with a single B). The misspelling is to avoid law suits, I suppose—or maybe accidents.

  •  (Jan 27) The Caserta Chamber of Commerce is seeking to acquire for nine million euros the ex-Bourbon hunting lodge known as “Carditello.” The site is located to the south-west of Caserta, midway between the towns of San Tammaso and Casal Principe and is currently in a state of semi-abandonment, although some sources still claim that it houses a “Farming Museum.” The property was acquired in 1745 by Charles III of Bourbon. The hunting lodge, itself, was the work of architect, Francesco Collecini, a student and collaborator of Luigi Vanvitelli. Collecini is better known as the planner of San Leucio, the experimental peasants’ collective near the Caserta Palace. The “Carditello” lodge was one of more than 20 such royal pleasure haunts of the Bourbons of that age, including the more famous ones at Capodimonte and the Astroni, the wildlife reserve and park above Agnano. (See this link for a complete list.) "Carditello" is in the Volturno plain, an extremely fertile area long known for the production of mozzarella and other agricultural products. Today, the area is a hive of illegal overbuilding. The project to acquire the property presumably aims to incorporate the site into the considerable tourist itinerary that the province of Caserta has to offer, including the Caserta Palace, just a few miles away. If you use Google Earth or some other source that lets you swoop down from outer space and spy on your neighbors, enter 41.061600 for north latitude and 14.190000 for east longitude for a bird's eye view.
(Also see a later entry, Carditello and Cardito.) (Also, a still later update, Jan 2014, here.)

  •    (Jan 28) In Quarto, near Naples, just a few feet away from the Ipercoop, a gigantic mega-mart (toothpaste? Uh, aisle 245, next to the buffalo floss) lies what is left of the ancient Roman Villa del Torchio (torchio is a wine-press), one of the most interesting examples of Roman rustic architecture in the area. The villa has been dated to about 100 AD and was the main wine producer for the nearby town of Puteoli (Pozzuoli). The ruins were uncovered during digging for the shopping center. The struggle between studying the past and building for the present (a daily occurrence in the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital) seems to be going in favor of those with the shopping carts. The villa del Torchio is surrounded by refuse and, at least for now, is neglected.

  •     (Feb 4) The Bank of Naples contains more than mere money; it’s a bit of a museum. When you walk in, you usually pass by some sort of historical display in the lobby—photos, old documents, etc. It’s all part of the Bank of Naples archives, a valuable resource. Now the bank has opened for the first time in 10 years a vault containing the “Treasures of the Bank of Naples.” Its existence has not been a secret or anything like that; it’s just that no one has gone down to the bat-cave recently to check it out. It contains, among many other items, the golden crown of the Madonna of the Annunziata, one of the most famous churches in Naples, as well as other jewelry, gold, and splendid religious artifacts, most from the 1700s. The city assessor says that the task is now to catalogue it all and put it on display. That’s right; they’re not even sure what is in the vault, and there was no comment on how the stuff got down there in the first place. The description of the vault claims it is Ocean’s Eleven-proof, but I do have this special blade on my Swiss Banking Knife...
  •     (Feb 5) Thousands of free pizzas were given away yesterday in the historic center of Naples to celebrate the European Union’s decision to include this characteristic Neapolitan fare among those protected by the “STG” designation—specialità tradizionale garantita [Guaranteed Traditional Specialty]. This means that ingredients such as mozzarella, tomato, and oil have to conform to the Protected Designation of Origin laws. This keeps you from ordering something called a “Neapolitan pizza” in Florence and eating non-Mozzarella curdled up in Eastern Europe, oil from Tunisia, and Canadian or Spanish flour. Sources claim that half of the pizzas in Italy are made from foreign ingredients. The new “STG” status also prescribes how pizza shall be prepared if it wants to call itself Neapolitan: diameter no more than 35 cm (13.8 inches), tomato spread with a spiral motion, raised crust between 1 and 2 cm, soft enough to be folded over, etc. I don’t think the STG descriptions specify a wood-fired oven, but that goes without saying—unless you are foolish enough to order a “Neapolitan pizza” in Florence.

At the installation in 2001          

  •     (Feb 7) Ah, underground Naples!—the ancient caves, quarries and aqueducts, mythological abode of strange troglodytes and real-life haunts of settlers from ancient Greece, home of the mysterious 60 sq. meter (!) maxi-video-screen with state of the art projector, all lurking beneath...wait, WHAT!? Indeed, hidden beneath Piazza Plebiscito (between and slightly in front of the two equestrian statues) is a huge video screen. It and the impressive machinery to raise and lower the screen, with a projector also submerged at the appropriate distance in front, all connected by fiber optic cables to San Carlo theater on the other side of the square, were put in place in 2001, checked out once to see that it all worked (it did), and then reconsigned to the bowels of ancient Neapolis, never to be used or seen again. The point of it all was, of course, to bring culture to the masses. Imagine a warm night in the gigantic piazza where you could stroll by, stand around or even sit under the stars and watch the opera going on in San Carlo. No one seems to know why that never came to pass. Maybe other things that logically should come first have not yet happened, such as cleaning up the square, itself, including the columns of the church of San Francesco di Paola and the colonnades on either side of the entrance. That means keeping the area free of thugs and druggies and waste (oh, my!) and installing good lighting in the square. And that is all in the hands of another group of less mythological troglodytes, the ones who live in city hall and eat money.

  •     (Feb 11) Originally, the court theater in the Royal Palace was built for the Spanish viceroys and then amply enlarged in the 1700s under the Bourbons. It was smaller than the adjacent San Carlo theater, of course—maybe less sumptuous but in no sense a second-class "house." It was, after all, where the king went to be amused, and if the royal "We" was not amused, then no one was. In any event, the teatro del corte has not been used as a real theater in over 60 years—it was damaged by a bomb in WWII. It was patched up and over the last few decades has served for conventions, exhibits, meetings and other not very splendid things. The annoucement now comes of the imminent inauguration of the totally restored theater! We are well pleased. [update here]

  •     (Feb 13) The European Union has put precious coral on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, and in March a commission of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) will meet in Qatar to decide how to regulate (meaning possibly abolish) trade of objects made from coral. The decision will directly affect the town of Torre del Greco near Naples, which has a history of coral artisanship going back to the 1400s and where, today, about 4,000 craftsmen work in 270 small shops turning out widely valued coral objects for export and the tourist trade.

  •      (Feb 14) Sooner or later, they'll get it ironed out, I suppose, but of all the damned dumb popinjay posturing! It took them 10 years to build the Niemeyer auditorium in Ravello. It opened in January (see item for Jan 19, above) to great acclaim. The first real event was to be the Winter Festival, opening on February 20 with music, literature readings and regional food & wine tasting. Now, the whole thing is in the toilet because of a tug-of-war between the president of the Ravello Foundation and mayor of Ravello over who is running the show. The Foundation, of course, has been responsible for all the grand cultural programs each year for many decades. The town (the mayor), equally of course, got the auditorium built in the first place. It will boil down, I hope, to which entity gets the larger font on the posters. For now, however, the auditorium is closed.
(For a June 2010 update, see this link.)

  •     (Feb 15) When I first read this
  The new red train descends the mountain like an incandescent bit of lava, exploring the Vesuvius National Park...a ground cable-car...5 stations along a route of 3725 meters...
      ...I thought I had rip-van-winkled awake in a Naples of the future, or maybe I had not been paying enough attention to the situation on the slopes of our great sleeping friend! Alas, I then noticed I was looking at the website for europaconcorsi, a fascinating open forum for architects, future architects, and dreamers. This plan for the Vesuvius Red Train was the winner (among five listed) for a way to re-introduce the delightful funiculì-funiculà concept back to the slopes of Vesuvius. Some of these europaconcorsi plans apparently do get off the drawing boards, but other than this mention of it, I have seen nothing else. The plan includes a canopy sky-trek affair along the way! I want this one, and I am starting to hold my breath right now...!

  •      (Feb 17) I have a lawyer friend who delights in playing friend to the downtrodden by getting traffic tickets thrown out; that is, the copper forgot to fill out line such-and-such or made a mistake on the date or whatever. Those vile little pieces of paper are legal documents and have to be done just right, or you are home free. Well, Robin Hood is out of work, at least for a few weeks. The people who print the tickets for traffic violations have not been paid in a while, and they are so steamed that they have stopped printing. The city of Naples has just run out of traffic tickets! The gendarmes can't write you up at all! So, get out there and...well, this is not license to go nuts on the streets, you understand. On the other hand...